Psychopaths Are Bloggers, Too.

by anna on March 31, 2010

psychopaths

Mr. Right-Click thinks I’ve become overly concerned with reading about psychopaths.

But I can’t help it. I find psychopaths to be just so interesting — you know, from a safe distance.

My latest reading stint on psychopaths started with reading that Columbine book that everybody has been talking about. But then I finished that and I moved on to this other book, Snakes in Suits, which is about nonviolent psychopaths in the workplace. See, I’m not really all that interested in reading about the Jeffrey Dahmer or Ted Bundy brand of psychopath. I mean, I used to be interested in them when I was younger, a little bit, but now I’m kind of bored by them. Everybody knows those guys are psychopaths because they do things like kill people and eat them, and because Jane’s Addiction writes songs about them.

Nonviolent psychopaths, though, those are the really scary ones, if you ask me.

For one thing, they are all over the place. The Sociopath Next Door claims there’s at least one person in twenty in regular society who is operating without a conscience. Other sources argue that it’s not possible to go a full day without interacting with at least one psychopath. (The terms sociopath/psychopath are sometimes used interchangeably, but there are specific diagnostic differences between the two things. As a overly simplified rule, I’m saying that both sociopaths and psycopaths are people who — whether by nature or as a product of the company they keep — behave as though they have no conscience.) It’s not that a psychopath doesn’t understand intellectually the difference between right and wrong, either. They are not usually stupid, psycopaths, though wow, stupid psychopaths — that is a reality show somebody needs to pitch to VH-1 — they usually can understand the difference between right and wrong, they just don’t care about it emotionally. I mean, can you imagine? Do you see how revolutionary this is, if you just accept its truth? So many fucked up things about the world that have puzzled us for eons can be instantly explained by this one thing: that there are people, more than you realize, who live their lives without having to consult a conscience about anything they do.

It’s freeing for me, personally, to see this. It explains things like . . . Enron, or Bernie Madoff, or the psychology of all investment bankers (just kidding, Monkey!). What an advantage these people must have over their business counterparts, never having to worry about whether or not they are good people, or whether or not their business practices are morally reprehensible. And since they are able to blend so well into regular society, the nonviolent psychopaths are pretty much invisible to most people in the world. What’s more is, their ability to mimic the behavior of normal conscience-burdened people is so convincing that you can ask somebody, “Hey, have you ever wondered if so-and-so is a psychopath?” and they’ll be like, “No, not so-and-so! So-and-so is a totally cool cat.” They’re so good at blending in that most people will steadfastly deny the suggestion that somebody is a psychopath, even when there is ample evidence to the contrary. Even the ones that are not as smooth, who cannot sweet talk people as well as others, manage to make a life for themselves by relying on threats, coercion, and intimidation to dominate others and get what they want.

If one in twenty is one . . . well, I have at least twenty readers by now. So which one of you is it? Don’t make me come out there and find the body parts in your freezer.

In non-psychopathic news, the first featured blogger ad is up and running! Please check out CrashTestMommy’s ad in the sidebar, and visit her blog ASAP! Thanks to Jenny for being the first experimental guinea pig in our brave new monetizing world.

{ 26 comments }

J. March 31, 2010 at 12:30 am

Hmmm, I don’t think I’m truly a psychopath or sociopath, but my morals are amazingly light and flexible sometimes. Like all of those ethics-type questions, “Would you commit murder if you knew you would get away with it?” If I got to choose the person, ummm, yes.
What I find fascinating is the kind of opposite effect, where a person can’t see past their morals even when it comes to survival. The worst case of this I’ve heard of is the grandparents and their grandson who got stuck on a remote highway. They ended up freezing to death even though there were houses visible from the road. Their morals wouldn’t allow them to break into someone’s home even to save their lives. I wonder if the the thought even occurred to them.

anna March 31, 2010 at 7:39 am

There’s a theory on those kinds of questions, Kholberg I think, and what you’re describing is a level 4 stage of moral development on that scale, which is where everything you do and decide is right or wrong is based on laws or other construct of the super ego. The classic question is, “Your spouse is dying and there is medicine you can get to help him or her, but only if you break into this pharmacy. Do you do it?”

Etc.

Michele March 31, 2010 at 3:51 am

Using this logic George W. Bush should be the first guest on that VH-1 reality show.

anna March 31, 2010 at 7:40 am

You know, as much as I despise George W. Bush, I really don’t think he’s a psychopath. I think he believes, strongly, that he’s doing God’s work, and that the ends justify the means.

Jill March 31, 2010 at 7:50 am

But what about Karl Rove?!

anna March 31, 2010 at 9:56 am

Karl Rove may well be a sociopath. :)

Elizabeth March 31, 2010 at 5:21 am

Oh all right, FINE. It’s me. I confess. My husband always did worry how easily I could lie to his mother. Do good non-repentant liars count as pyscho/sociopaths? I need to read up on this.

anna March 31, 2010 at 7:41 am

psychopaths and sociopaths tend to be excellent liars, but no that doesn’t mean you’re one of them! I think when mothers-in-law are concerned, all of those rules kind of fly out the window.

Pam Cope March 31, 2010 at 6:12 am

Hi – I am new to blogging, just starting one myself, and wasting a ton of time reading other blogs, to see if I can get some ideas. yours is so amazing and overwhelming all at the same time! I can see I am going to be spending some time getting to know you…. I work with a guy who I don’t know if he’s psycho or sociopath, probably both. he either loves me if I’m cooperating or is screaming at me because I’m messing with his fucking money. when I told him I don’t drink any more he told me he quit for a while… when he was in high school he got drunk and got in a car accident that killed his girlfriend. luckily his dad got him a good attorney so there was no problem and now he drinks but not a big deal. he thinks its funny that his 5 year old daughter wanted to have a lemonade stand but they didn’t have any lemonade so she decided to have a beer stand…

anna March 31, 2010 at 7:44 am

Boom! That’s what I’m talking about. That guy has got to be one. To be responsible for your girlfriend dying as a result of your drinking, you could be an alcoholic and not ready to get sober, because a lot of practicing alcoholics can act as if they are sociopaths. But the fact that he talks so freely about it and says that he got a good lawyer suggests that it’s not just alcoholism.

Also, the exaggerated praise alternating with bullying and berating you is pretty classic psychopath.

Welcome, Pam!

Mr Lady March 31, 2010 at 7:54 am

“because Jane’s Addiction writes songs about them.”

That was comic gold. Just sayin’.

anna March 31, 2010 at 9:56 am

lol. It’s true!

Susan Tiner March 31, 2010 at 9:26 am

Remember the really stupid psychopath in the movie Fargo? Except he killed people, so he’s not a good example of what you’re talking about. Don’t you think sometimes people are just so and oblivious and self absorbed it doesn’t occur to them to check in with their conscience? That is until they are ill treated by someone else and get self-righteous about it.

anna March 31, 2010 at 9:59 am

You mean the “Where is pancakes house?” guy? I love that movie.

I do think that people are too self-absorbed to consult their conscience at times, but those people will still feel guilt at some point, they won’t be able to just continue with their behavior indefinitely without some kind of bad after affect. There’s a bunch of different conditions that lead to behavior that might be interpreted as psychopathic, like malignant narcissism or whatever.

But there are still a ton of real honest-to-goodness psychopaths out there, and they do this stuff without remorse, without fear even of exposure because they just don’t care if people know what they are as long as they can still get what they want.

Jackie March 31, 2010 at 9:39 am

I just read a book called Narcissism in the Workplace by Dr. Samuel Grier. I was trying to name the behavior I came up against in my place of work. Bingo! It’s all there. Now, is this coworker also a sociopath? Could be, as I see no empathy and no sense of right and wrong in this person. The moral compass is missing from this coworker and how can a person with a moral compass deal with that? By running as fast as you can.

anna March 31, 2010 at 10:01 am

Yeah, there’s a lot of common ground between narcissists and sociopaths, but there has to be a complete or near-complete lack of empathy (and therefore guilt) to be a psychopath. I think I find it so interesting because of the workplace situation — you are forced to deal with people like this in order to get your work done, so what is the best way to handle it, etc.? In all situations possible, I think just not associating is the best idea, but sometimes that’s not possible.

monkey March 31, 2010 at 10:41 am

OMG, I have so much to say on this. I took a class in law and psychiatry when I was in law school (that was taught by forensic psychiatrists from the medical school). My sister is a bona fide psychiatrist. I know a little bit of knowledge is dangerous-but just an introduction to personality disorders allowed me to view the world in a whole different way! My sister and I actually have a little code to refer to mild sociopaths or people with exaggerated personality characteristics…we refer to them as Axis 2s.

FTR, I completely agree with the fact that a good many lawyers/doctors/MBA (i-bankers) have certain exaggerated personality characteristics such as narcissism and histrionic. The shrinks who taught our class were trying to point out that “in moderation” these two are often the fundamental drivers of ambition, so pretty much anyone who goes to graduate school/pursues higher education has at least a healthy dose of some of these personality traits. Obviously, there are people who have them in more-than-healthy doses, which in my mind, explains not just investment bankers, but also politicians.

I have dated a couple of sociopaths but they’re less the store-body-parts-in-the-freezer type than extremely charming individuals who do not possess a strong sense of morality and have no real intellectual understanding (nor do they care) about how their actions impact the emotions of others. The worst part is that for my last one, my sister was already a practicing psychiatrist with lots of exposure to personality disorders by the time she met him. She HATED him, and warned me that his family history put him at risk for multiple mental issues but I was so in love with him that I ignored her (not to mention, was pissed at her). My experience with high-functioning sociopaths is that they’re just that-they’re extremely ambitious and quite personable (upon first impression). I don’t think the majority of them are sitting around blogging, no offense. Both of mine were superstar successful-my ex was actually a managing director at an investment bank before he turned 30 and I met the other one when I was very young, but he’s also really high up in a pretty well known tech company now, in spite of his young age.

anna April 1, 2010 at 1:38 pm

I like the idea of calling them “Axis 2″s. That cracks me up. I know that the problem with reading this stuff is that then you’re tempted to diagnose everyone you meet, when you actually have no basis for this. I took a bunch of Freud seminars in grad school and it was the same thing. I still think it can inform the way you live your life, just as long as you’re not irresponsible in the way that you armchair diagnose people. I am often pretty irresponsible with this, though.

I agree, blogging doesn’t attract a huge share of the sociopaths because it’s just not enough of a game for them to play at and win. But there was one description in the book I’m reading that made me shudder — something about how there are occasionally sociopaths who don’t have a lot of social skills or whatever, and that they will try to find small communities in which they can have control and power. And that, I think, explains a few people in the blogosphere.

snarkoleptic April 1, 2010 at 12:53 pm

Oh this subject is too close to home for me. I stopped blogging after several years because of a whole debacle that resulted from befriending another blogger who was, yup, you got it. The Martha Stout book sent chills down my spine. Ironically, I was the one who was accused of the sociopathy. I’d almost believe it except I think (perhaps delusionally) that I do have a conscience and that playing other people for sport is f$cked up. I think the blogosphere has a tendency to attract more than its fair share of people who simply cannot relate to people in their life outside the computer (aka: real life). So I slunk off the internet and returned to my real life where I realized I actually have a lot of friends who know me well and whose perception of me isn’t so carefully crafted by the words I type behind the computer screen. ;-) I’ve been lurking here a bit. Love your blog. Sorry to disappoint but I just don’t think I’m #20.

anna April 1, 2010 at 1:42 pm

I think everybody has that kind of an experience with the internet at some point. Mine was on message boards, and there was one poster there who I’m convinced (with my armchair diagnostic tools) is/was a sociopath. But at that point, I didn’t really understand so I kept trying to deal with this person logically, which is a total waste of time.

I’m grateful for my time on the message boards, though, not only because I made some good friends that I still have to this day (some comment here on occasion), but also because I got this experience with online communities and what you can and cannot expect from those relationships. It’s unlike real life friendships — more intimate in many ways, but also more detached. There’s a learning curve to navigating them, and I think some bloggers are at a disadvantage to be figuring that out at the same time as they’re trying to build a business.

monkey April 1, 2010 at 3:01 pm

I was also part of a messageboard community for a long time and I totally know what you are talking about. There was one individual who really raised my hackles. It might just have been the way he described his wife as a disposable asset whose job it was to produce children for him, how he only married her because she was rich and not overly promiscuous, his love of watching people suffer in natural disasters etc. etc.. I saw him less as narcissist than as someone with serious antisocial tendencies, though. Unfortunately, this is one of those internet boards where everyone has to be as cool/geeky/liberal as possible and they cut him a lot of slack because he’s a long time member. Even though he once posted about how he and his friend made got one of their female friends drunk and then debated raping her while she was out or something super seriously creepy along those lines.

anna April 1, 2010 at 4:11 pm

See, that’s the tendency of these online communities, though. Cutting slack because somebody has been around for a long time, or because of the pressure of the group to adhere to some ridiculous code of behavior that supposedly unites them. I don’t really want sociopaths or psychopaths in my life, even if they’re only online.

snarkoleptic April 1, 2010 at 1:17 pm

Oh…and I forgot to add, in my haste to comment, that when I started to become friends with former friend, I realized that every time I had to get together with her, I felt sick to my stomach. I began to actively avoid her. I couldn’t put my finger on it except she repulsed me. She’s not physically repulsive by any stretch, so it was quite puzzling to me why I couldn’t stand the thought of seeing someone who was supposedly a great pal.

Contrary to popular belief, most sociopaths aren’t of the Jeffrey Dahmer variety. You know this because you’ve read all those books, but most people don’t. Which is why, I believe, so many of us are taken in by them. Anyway, sorry to hijack your comments. I find the subject truly fascinating, I suppose because I just can’t conceive of not having a conscience. But I think I’m much better at spotting them now, and listening to my intuition. I’m a lot quicker to move on and not be so taken in by someone with charm and intelligence if a little alarm goes off in my head that says ICK! ICK! ICK!

anna April 1, 2010 at 1:43 pm

Absolutely, the gut reaction is so valuable in so many different ways. When I get a reaction like that I try to remember it, and still give the person a chance, but never forget that I had that reaction. Because so often there is a reason for it.

Andrew Stevens April 1, 2010 at 8:16 pm

I agree with this review of The Sociopath Next Door or this review or especially this review. Self-righteous moralizing always sells though and if we can paper it over with a (very) thin veneer of science, so much the better. When I was done reading the book, I was wondering if Dr. Stout herself was a sociopath, given how little empathy she had for these people who are surely among the most pitiable specimens of humanity on the planet.

Very few experts agree with the 4% figure. Most place it at 1% at most and there are many who think 1% is way too high. Given that the prison population has an inordinate number of psychopaths (anywhere from 8% to 25%), the number among the free population is probably substantially less than 1%. There is an excellent chance that none of the readers here are psychopaths or sociopaths. And there is also an excellent chance that most of the people being discussed in this thread aren’t either; most of them are probably just jerks with poor social skills. And, yes, I do suggest feeling a little empathy and compassion for them too.

Michelle April 4, 2010 at 8:25 pm

When I would get baffled and perplexed and whatnot regarding a news story about somebody doing something that, to me, was horrifying, my dad would say, “You can’t rationalize and irrational act.”

I was never in the least satisfied with that. Regardless of intelligence level or degree of sanity, there must, I say, MUST be some explanation as to why they did this thing. The why has always been it for me, I’m endlessly (and annoyingly) trying to find it.

This blog post has been far more satisfying than my dad’s saying. And I may have a new set of books to read.

Thanks

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